Friday, 12 September 2014

Islamic State: Britain and the Call of the New Modern Caliphate

The savagery of Islamic State is plain for all to see when broadcast across the globe via Youtube, social media sites and reportage such as that on Vice News. The gory spectacle of online decapitations, mass executions and enemy corpses strewn on pavements of Raqqa have lead the Caliphate to be called 'medieval'.

The idea IS is a medieval throwback is convenient in trying to compare it with the values of the civilised world and to portray it as irreparably 'other'. IS, from such a perspective, consists of pyschopaths looking for an excuse for gloating cruelty or else it is the real face of purest Islam just as it was back in the seventh century.

Politicians in the West such as Britain's Prime Minister Cameron, concerned at the prospect of battle hardened jihadists returning from Syria to plot terror attacks, have tended to downplay the nature of the 'so-called Caliphate'. They refuse to call is 'Islamic State' ( IS ) and President Obama refers to it merely as  'ISIL'.

By speaking of the need to 'degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL' on the 13th anniversary of Al Qaida's 9/11 attacks on New York, Obama has made it clear he refused to recognise it as an Islamic State. ISIL sounds rather more like an acronym for a deadly virus as opposed to ISIS which sounds rather less menacing.

Referring to Islamic State as ISIL makes it appear a lethal threat to the security of the region without being a legitimate Islamic State and thereby colluding with the view of itself as the direct successor to Muhammad's seventh century Arabian state; this is precisely what the self-styled Caliph al-Baghdadi would want.

However, when Britain's Nick Clegg refers to Islamic State “this medieval and vile movement” he was indicating such atrocities belong firmly in the Dark Ages. In fact, Islamic State both in ideology, tactics and propaganda belongs firmly in the modern world for a number of reasons politicians would prefer not to admit.

One reason is Islamic State is a consequence of the support and backing given to radicalised jihadists by Britain and America's Gulf allies in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatar, in particular, supported the al-Nusra brigades which, among many other jihadist groups, had members splinter off and joing ISIS throughout 2013-2014

Islamic State is a classic example of 'blowback'. It was only in April 2014 when ISIS became a threat to those who had backed Sunni jihadists in a proxy war against Assad's Alawite dominated regime, Hizbollah and its Iranian backers that Turkey, Qatar's main regional ally and NATO member, put al Nusra on the terrorist list.

Two years before Islamic State became Cameron called a 'deeper and graver threat than we have ever known', British jihadists were known to be flying into Turkey to cross the border to fight against Assad. Nothing was done as it is in September 2014 to fortify the borders because jihadi travellers were fighting the right enemy.

There is a history of MI6 andi the CIA having allowed jihadists from Britiain to go to Afghanistan and to fight in Bosnia and Kosovo so that they could be monitored and later 'turned' and deployed as intelligence assets that could provide information and act as informers on domestic Islamist groups operating within Britain.

A dark and shadowy power game has gone on with British jihadi-Islamists, one exploited by groups such as CagePrisoners, a front for Islamist agitation and anti-Western propaganda which has been able to exploit the very real fact of the CIA having imprisoned thousands of western Islamists and sympathisers without charge

A jihadi-Islamist sympathiser, Moazzam Begg, founded Cageprisoners after having been incarcerated in Bagram in Afganistan following his arrest in Islamabad in 2002 . He was subequently held in Guantanamo Bay until 2005 when he was 'rendered ' as part of America and Britain's so-called 'global war on terror'.

After having played on his role as a victim of Britain's foreign policy and been courted as a cause celebre on his return by the Respect Party and the Stop the War Coalition, Begg was re-arrested in March 2014 and charged with terrorism offences in July connected to his alleged role in training at a Syrian terrorist camp.

The flavour of Cageprisoner's propaganda could be seen in one advertised event scheduled for the 20th September 2014 entitled 'Is it a Crime to Care ? Syria-Gaza, Criminalisation of Islam'. The agenda is one of building up the image of a global Muslim community persecuted the better to propagate the ideology.

By blending a defence of jihadi-Islamist ideology with humanitarian missions to the Greater Middle East, a dark mirror is held up to British foreign policy and the contradictions between its stated policy of humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan to Iraq when compared to Britain's 'support' for Israel over Gaza.

Through projecting visceral aggression on to the enemy, which is the British state and society, the propaganda narrative is one that suggests that Islamist resistance in the Middle East and in Israel is apiece with the need to resist a British state which is pursuing a global war on the Muslim umma. Hence,
'..the attacks on Islamic concepts of war, political governance and the unity of Muslim lands are nothing new, they have now increased on an unprecedented scale in the wake of the rise of ISIS and its declaration of a Caliphate. The matter is not about supporting or opposing the version of a Caliphate as demonstrated by ISIS but rather the criminalisation of Islamic political thought and ideology.
The concepts of jihad, shariah and khilafah are not the exclusive possession of ISIS but core Islamic doctrines subscribed to by almost one third of the world's population. It is telling that the government's treatment of ISIS is similar to its treatment of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ut Tahrir, and the Taliban, despite the enormous differences of belief and methodology between the groups.'
Islamism is not Islam and there are, of course, various trends within Islamism : ISIS is at the violent and bloody end of this political spectrum. But British Islamists, such as Jamal Harwood, head of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Anas Altikriti of the MAB, hold to the idea that revolutionary Islamism is the one true political Islam.

The grim irony is that many British Islamist movements, front organisations and propaganda outfits such as the British Muslim Initiative are backed and bankrolled by Britain's foremost Middle Eastern ally in the Syrian conflict and commercial trading partner in the form of its Gulf partner Qatar.

The MAB is essentially an British version of the Muslim Brotherhood which Qatar and NATO member Turkey backed against Iran and Hizbollah with the full support of Britain, the US and France through such groups as the Friends of Syria created in 2012 by Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French President.

Qatar was prepared to back the most ruthless Sunni militants and jihadists in Syria and the most stalwart defender of Qatar has been the the British government. In April 2014, Philip Hammond was in Doha when he announced locating a British military base in the gas rich emirate and arms deals worth QR230.

The Muslim Brotherhood, of course, is a relatively 'moderate' Sunni militant group backed by Qatar in Egypt and in Syria. This is one reason Britain and the US was prepared to work with it and  identify with Qatar's regional strategy to back it until the Egyptian coup in 2013 and the emergence of Islamic State in Syria.

It is within this context that David Cameron in March 2014 ordered an enquiry into whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be branded a terrorist organisation. The reason, given that the group had been effectively given cautious backing in 2012, was the fear of Britain being caught up in any blowback from Egypt.

Despite the idea that the 9/11 Al Qaida attacks on New York 'changed everything', Britain continued being a haven for Islamist malcontents or 'Londonistan' and no terrorist charges were ever brought against those who had been advocating it such as Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the US, Omar Bakri and Abu Qatada.

London remains in 2014 a place where Islamist exiles from the Muslim Brotherhood are allowed to settle and act as influential lobbyists with a media apparatus supported by Qatar because of the scale of billions of pounds worth of gas wealth being invested in the Stock Market, prime real estate and buying influence.

Any decision to put the Muslim Brotherhood on the terrorist list would be a purely political decision based on realpolitik considerations and the need to please Britain's other regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and , of course, Israel which has its own influential lobby groups and detests Qatar for backing Hamas in Gaza.

It is in response to that threat that Anas Altikriti is ramping up the messianic propaganda offensive against the British State for being complicit in the oppression of Muslims both within Syria and Gaza and being "Islamophobic" in its attempt to criminalise legitimate Muslim aspirations for a Islamist political order.

In such circumstances, there is a danger of ever greater "radicalisation" within Britain as the Islamist emphasis upon the Caliphate, jihad and the imposition of sharia law, portrayed by Cageprisoners as "not the exclusive property of ISIS", could catch on as potent symbols of Muslim unity against 'western imperialism'.

After all, a prime component of IS propaganda is to provoke the west and grab media attention. Beheading journalists is a tactic to draw attention so that fellow jihadi travellers in the Middle East and the Britain can exploit the outrage to suggest these killings are only in revenge for the 'greater slaughter' of Western policies.

Such propaganda has been the consistent line from those ranged against the British government and prepared to rationalise terrorism to a point just short of justifying it ever since 9/11 when the 'war on terror' was first launched and groups such as the grotesquely named Stop the War Coalition were set up.

Though the StWC was created by disgruntled far leftist agitators indulging in toy town revolutionary politics as well as political has-beens from the 1980s dismayed by the collapse of British Communism and the Soviet Union in 1991, it rapidly became dominated by Islamist fronts such as the MAB.

What united the British hard left and Islamists was common opposition to the British state, the perceived global dominance of American Imperialism and the ideology which presented it and Israel as the two main determining reasons why the Greater Middle East was embroiled in conflict and wars.

As a consequence to this supposed 'anti-war' activism in Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair and hack propagandists such as Denis MacShane started to step up the the rhetoric about Britain and 'the west' being menaced by an alignment of dictators such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Islamist terrorists.

Blair's manner of 'framing his response' to events in the Greater Middle East in the run up to the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 ended up giving credence to the idea popular among opponents of the war that the US and Britain were engaged in a long 'civilisational war' with Islamism at home and abroad.

Of course, Saddam Hussein was a secular dictator whose overthrow led to chaos. The installing of a democracy by 2005 only widened and deepened Iraq's pre-existing sectarian tensions and led to an open warfare that had not abated by 2014 when ISIS stormed in from Syria and led a Sunni Arab insurgency.

What Blair's government did was to confirm the propaganda narrative of jihadi-Islamists that Britain's foreign policy was about destabilising and dividing and ruling oil rich lands for the exclusive benefit of its corporations and decadent western consumers whose repellent materialistic lifestyles were part of the problem.

The ideology of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other Islamists identifying with a transnational Islamic State was that the false decadent existence of the westerner was inauthentic. The hypocrite Blair embodied this state and society which exploited Muslim disunity just in order to grab what was really Muslim people's oil.

Propaganda such as this had long found a receptive audience in the Middle East. That it found support in Britain was not surprising as it was the case bit forward by radical leftists who saw the Iraq War as an invasion to seize control of Iraq's oil and, in truth, that was an important reason behind it.

Radical Islamist and their leftist allies in the Stop the War Coalition were able to frame the 'war on terror' narrative in Britain as a 'war of terror' in which the victims were Muslims irrespective of Blair's proclaimed belief that the invasion of Iraq was a war of liberation from a dictator who murdered Muslims.

The irony is that both radical Islamists and pro-liberation radicals in Britain agreed that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator: they were only at odds because Islamists regarded the western imperialists as the 'root cause' in creating the dictatorship and backing it in the first place whereas Blair saw it as an outgrowth of pure evil.

Blair saw Baathist dictatorships and Islamism as a consequence of a evil totalitarian ideology while Islamists saw Saddam Hussein wholly as a CIA backed stooge who had done the West's bidding in containing Iran and was kept in power after the First Gulf War of 1991 to protect other tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia.

The stated purpose of Blair's 'ethical foreign policy' in using British forces to protect civilians from brutal regimes by assisting in removing them. It was to make a break with previous Cold war realpolitik and the policies that had led to the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s by paramilitary Serb militias.

Contrary to improving Britain's standing in the so-called 'Muslim World', Blair's decision to join in with the US in Iraq was portrayed in 'anti-war' propaganda as a war on Muslims for oil just as nothing had been done to save Bosnian Muslims because there was no oil in the former Yugoslavia at stake.

The War in Afghanistan in 2001, which was less than two years old when Iraq was invaded, was more difficult to portray as a cynical war for resources using a humanitarian pretext, though the interest the US government and UNOCAL had in building a gas pipeline was often mentioned as the 'real reason'.

It was the Iraq War that overshadowed the way Britain and its relationship with Muslims and political Islam was portrayed. Blair was adamant that Islamism was a the global threat after the fall of the Soviet Union just as global communism had been after 1945 when Britain and the US had defeated fascism in Europe.

The irony, once more, is that this messianic depiction of Islamism, called after the London Bombings of 2005 by the neoconservative politician, Michael Gove as 'seamless totalitarian movement ( Celsius 7/7 page 12 ), was one groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the MAB agreed with, except for Islamism meant 'liberation'.

Though Islamism was not one monolithic ideology uniting fanatics in power or else sleepercells waiting to be activated across the west, what happened in the decade after the Iraq invasion raised the stakes in that either the Arab nations would move towards democracy or stay under dictators said to be imposed by the west.

The daughter of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood movement Soumaya Ghannoushi, one of the many offspring of political exiles from Arab nationalist dictators who had been allowed to seek refuge in Britain, was a founder of the British Muslim Initiative designed to mobilise British Muslims as a political force.

Ghannoushi made it plain that is Britain and other Western nations did not stop their support for Arab dictators and Israel, then the threat of terrorism coming back to visit the West was going to be a regrettable consequence that they would have coming to them in the form of blowback.

Ghannoushi was considerably more sophisticated is presenting British leaders such as Tony Blair with a choice: either continuing to back corrupt secular dictators and rentier elites in the Maghreb and Near East and face an aggressive fanatical response or else back democratic Islamist reformers.

Ghannoushi, who benefitted from a wealthy background and private education, was a regular orator at anti-war movements in London in the first decade of the new century who had a fondness for incendiary rhetoric and yoking together the predicament of all Arab Muslims in different lands into one suffering umma.
 'In our globalised world, crises can no longer be kept far away, left to rage in distant lands and devour obscure nations. The troubles of Kabul, Jenin and Falluja now spill over on to our shores, towns and cities, lay bare our fundamental vulnerability, and put an end to our sense of immunity....London and Washington must decide which Islam they want: a peaceful, democratic Islam, crucial to any pursuit of global stability, or the anarchical and destructive Islam of al-Qaida and its ilk'.
Ghannoushi's stance was clear: the most ferocious and violent jihadist movements were wholly a reaction to colonialism and western imperialism, a form of resistance that was the outgrowth not of any real or imagined shorcomings within Islam as a 'religion of peace' but a pathological response to oppression.

What Ghannoushi was revealing was a veiled threat on behalf of the British umma whereby if Britain sided or was seen to be siding with regimes that oppressed the democratic aspiration of Arabs, through aligning with Islamist movements that were not aligned with Al Qaida, then they would become terrorist targets.

Ghannoushi's was power claim, a judgement of what 'ought' to happen concealed within a discourse that masqueraded as a mere statement of the facts. Clearly it had little time for minorities that were non-Islamic in the Middle East by conflating Arabs with Muslims and the quest for an Islamic dominated state.

Democratic Islamists such as Ghannoushi rejected Al Qaida and Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Yet they retained the idea that Islam's lack of any clear distinction between the realm of the political and of the religious contained the true liberatory potential that those with the correct view of Islam would apply if free from western meddling

One problem with the vision of Islamism as the source of true freedom and diversity-within-unity is that in practice is would always cause chaos and have a ready excuse in the context of Arabic politics that the failure to realise democracy was less to do with the flaws in the doctrines but western policy.

By 2011 with the revolt against Ben Ali in Tunisia was replicated in Egypt. Arab uprisings across the region had created new hopes of a democratic order but within two years by 2013 the result had been chaos and either the restoration of authoritarian regimes or the collase into conflict, violence and terrorism.

The only exception to this bleak scenario was Tunisia where the Rachid Ghannoushi's Ennada Party won an election in October 2011, a result that was accepted and created a regional partner the western states were prepared to work with. Needless to say, firebrand daughter Soumaya Ghannouchi has been quiet ever since.

Elsewhere in the Maghreb and Near East the prophecy of an end to secular nationalist dictatorships and its replacement either by reformist Islamised democracies or else Sunni militancy, jihadi insurrections and blowback has actually happened as a consequence of events in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

The collapse of the old order of nationalist dictatorships after 2011 came without western interference, laying bare the futility of the decision to invade Iraq a decade before. It came too late as the effects of years of corruption, mismanagement and struggles over resources as oil and water caused intractable conflicts.

Blair continued to stand by his idea that Middle Eastern dictators and Islamist terrorism were both part and parcel of the same disorder, except where those dictators were amenable to western interests. That proved evident when as a UN special "peace" envoy he praised Sisi's crushing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Though Blair seemed alone in being the most vociferous western public figure lauding the use of military force to overthrow an elected but shaky government in Cairo, machine gun demonstrators, ban opposition parties, and pass the death sentence of its leaders, Britain ended up giving de facto recognition to Sisi's regime.

With the disintegration of the borders drawn up between Syria and Iraq by Britain and France in 1916, the Sykes-Picot 'line in the sand', the collapse and disintegration of Libya following the western backed overthrow of Gaddafi and the rise of jihadi-Islamists there, the stage was clearly set for the new Caliphate.

In northern Syria, the failure of all political systems since the Turkish government abolished the Caliphate in 1924 after three years of war against Assad had failed to remove him and the brutality of war has laid waste to vast parts of the country, made the new Caliphate the only political 'solution'

In Iraq, the Sunni Arabs had been marginalised and pushed out of Iraqi national life by the dominance of Iranian backed Shi'ites in Baghdad and the growing autonomy of the Kurdish region: both regions where Sunni Arabs were not diminant had the vast majority of Iraq's oil wealth.

Within Britain, the call of the IS Caliphate has been confined to a few who went to fight against Assad but numbers also of jihadi-travellers who sympathise with it even if they have not wanted to join in as combatants They serve in other capacities as making good jihadi wives or executioners of journalists such as James Foley.

The response to these atrocities and British born jihadists by Cameron repeated similar mistakes of the sort made by Tony Blair. Having done nothing to stop the jihadists going to Syria when they were fighting on the 'right side' against Assad, Islamists are pointing now towards their criminalisation as a double standard.

Cameron started to use similar language as Blair about a 'generational struggle' with ISIS when Britain and the US had supported Saudi and Qatari policy throughout 2012 and 2013 and did little or nothing to put pressure on Riyadh or Doha to stop the flow of funding jihadists in Syria.

The phrase 'generational struggle' was in any case deployed by Cameron during the Algerian hostage crisis of January 2013 as a means by which disparate threats against western resource interests such as Algeria's oil and gas could be welded together as a united threat to Britain's way of life and security.

The reason for these rhetoric sleights of hand and precision tooled media soundbites is to provide the impression that there is a one global movement of jihadists that stretch from otherwise exotic far off Muslim lands directly right into the heart of Britain with the same intention of causing terror and mayhem.

This rhetoric is useful as 'public diplomacy' because it softens up the public mood for military intervention when it is needed. It also serves to conceal the facts that those violent jihadi-Islamist threats have emerged and surged out of the blowback created by the support given to such jihadist forces by Britain's allies.

Terrorism expert Michael Clarke claimed, 'The danger of the prime minister's rhetoric.. is that it can serve to unite forces that might otherwise be fractious and ineffective. The most obvious strategic mistake would be to unite forces which will otherwise become more disparate in the natural course of events."

However, the dangers in that were factored in to the 'business as usual' approach that Britain has taken towards jihadi-terrorists as useful as assets when fighting against forces such as Assad's which stand in the way of its geopolitical ambitions and its oil and gas interests in the Middle East.

Jihadi-Islamists in Syria and Iraq no less than powers such as the US and Britain are playing the long game in vying for control over resources. In calling itself 'Islamic State', the new caliphate has attempted a propaganda coup which aims to unite jihadists across Africa and the Middle East against 'western imperialism'.

The rationale is to trap Western politicians within their own rhetoric about a 'unified threat' and drawing them into war with any one jihadi-Islamist group where oil and gas or strategic interests are at stake: from Boko Haram in Nigeria, al Shabaab in Somalia, AQAP in Yemen and jihadi-Islamists in Libya and Sinai in Egypt.

So would appear that IS could spread as a 'franchise' operation and global brand throughout these lands.With East Ukraine in conflict and the Libyan capital haven fallen to jihadi-Islamists, the EU powers are far more than the US, with its shale oil and gas, increasingly concerned for energy security at all costs.

In Britain's case, it is Qatar that is courted as the long term supplier need to step in and up the export level of liquified natural gas to Britain as North Sea gas depletes It is also Qatar which is responsible for backing not only Muslim Brotherhood forces in the Middle East but also militias in Libya and also the Taliban.

While Qatar did not directly fund or back Islamic State it is a direct consequence of its rivalry with Saudi Arabia in trying to back the jihadists most effective in advancing their interests and to install its government in Damascus. Saudi Arabia backed factions opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood which it now calls 'terrorists'.

The danger is that such regional rivalries among those Gulf state powers which are allied with Britain could be fought as proxy wars just as they are at present in Libya between Qatar which backs militant Islamists and the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are all backing forces previously loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.

Across many of the lands to which a stake has been claimed by the new Caliphate of Raqqa, whole parts of states have collapsed in part or completely where a combination of climate change, drought and overpopulation has put pressure upon society and  thrown up jihadist movements against corrupt regimes.

Within Britain, the British Muslim Initiative and the Cordoba Foundation are promoting a vision of the Muslim World that Britain ought to be bound to uphold, that of the Muslim Brotherhood, unless it would want to be condemned to being an oppressor of the Muslim umma as seen in the recent Gaza-Israel War.

The danger is where the British State is portrayed as not having upheld the interests of Muslims, it is held to be hostile and putting itself in the camp of the enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood abroad and so of the freedom of Muslims everywhere including within Britain.

So when Cameron made a speech playing up the 'ISIL' as 'a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before' he reacted in precisely the way IS would have wanted by conflating Islamic States threat in the Middle East with as yet unrealised and abstract threat within Britain.

The publicly made avowal of 'depriving people of their citizenship' and prosecuting people for terrorist activity abroad taps in to the idea promoted by groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir and Cageprisoners that British Muslims everywhere are second class citizens and so the 'extremism' the government condemns feeds on.

By converting the entire regions where British jihadists could head into one seamless global battleground, the British government is acting in a manner more likely to make that become a reality by doing little to have put pressure on Saudi Arabia or Qatar to stop backing 'extremists' only to change when blowback beckons.

Those British jihadists who went abroad were not stopped by the British security services in 2011. Nor were plans made then to work with Turkish security because it was policy back then to funnel jihadists towards fighting Assad. Jihadi sympathisers are aware of those double standards and ready for revenge attacks.

The irony of jihadi-Islamists invoking Western foreign policy as a justification for terror attacks is as absurd as the botched and shoddy realpolitik strategy of that foreign policy in having facilitated the very rise of the Islamic State to which they would owe allegiance over that of a Britain to which they feel no primary loyalty.

That there are those who feel the call of loyalty to a caliphate in Britain has long been apparent, even if not quite the one being created by al-Baghdadi in Syria and Iraq. But that the British government would effectively play a part in creating one through the consequences its own policy strategies is a black farce.

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